Clint Eastwood’s ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ (1997)

Despite this film’s somewhat bloated running length, I did rather enjoy this movie. Though Clint Eastwood was rather trying my patience by perpetrating one of my greatest cinematic pet peeves: the underdeveloped and unnecessary romance. Had Eastwood been wise enough to hack off the uninteresting relationship between John and Mandy, the film would have been a more reasonable length and had better pacing. Not only did John Cusack and Alison Eastwood lack chemistry (Cusack had more of a spark with The Lady Chablis), but Alison Eastwood did not present herself as a very good actor.

When I finished watching the film, I began mentally preparing my attack on Eastwood for his stereotype-fueled portrayal of southerners. But as I began to really think about it, I realized that the characters in the film are only slightly over-the-top. And they are embellished only for cinematic and entertainment purposes. The film does not attempt to be a gritty, realistic documentary, therefore the embellishment is not inappropriate. Nice touches of southern culture were Joe Odum handing out refreshments to spectators of Jim’s arrest, the fey hairdresser wondering if John attends his church, and Chablis’ dismay at John coming to her “house of mourning” without flowers and condolences.

The acting in this film is quite good, aside from Ms. Eastwood. John Cusack is solid as usual and gives his great Cusackian delivery of lines like, “This place is fantastic; it’s like Gone With The Wind on mescaline. They walk imaginary pets here, Garland, on a fucking leash. And they’re all heavily armed and drunk. New York is boring!” Kevin Spacey’s rather inscrutable facial expressions serve him well in this role and Jude Law makes the most of a small part. Of particular note is Irma P. Hall, a very underrated character actor (in my opinion).

One part of the story that I felt was underexplored was Savannahian society’s rejection of Jim once his sexuality came to light in such a dastardly context. His friends’ desertion of him is suggested in one scene, but not played out to its fullest extent. Eastwood did fail to include the legion of Southern Baptists that would have protested en masse outside of the courthouse, had Jim’s sexuality been made public in the newspapers.